West Division Report: Wenatchee opens to big crowds
by Brian McDonough | NAHL.com
The Wenatchee Wild opened its home schedule last weekend with much anticipation and it didn’t disappoint, skating to a two game-sweep over the Kenai River Brown Bears.
As expected, the Wild faithful were out in full force, as enthusiastic crowds of 3,804 on Friday’s opening night and 3,447 on Saturday packed Wenatchee’s Town Toyota Center.
“The new guys on the team were absolutely amazed at the great crowds and the phenomenal support and electricity they generated,” said Wild head coach Paul Baxter. “The Wenatchee Valley community has been unyielding in their enthusiasm for the Wild; they’re a great ‘seventh man’ for us.”
Despite picking up four points, Baxter, who credits Kenai River, which finished last in the West Division a year ago, with marked improvement, wants to see a lot more from his charges as they begin their quest for a Robertson Cup championship.
“We had good starts to both games, yet struggled to maintain our intensity and focus as they progressed,” said the coach. “We need to become more reliable, shift in and shift out.”
Veteran forwards Michael Di Puma (two goals, assist) and Shawn Pauly (three goals) led the way offensively for the Wild in its wins over Kenai River.
“Mike and Shawn are being counted on to lead the inexperienced players, both by example and what’s expected in the Wild culture,” said Baxter. “Both would agree, though, they need to provide a more consistent and focused effort, along with our other vets.”
It’s hard to ignore the early promise of young defenseman Zach Frye. Named the West Player of the Week after his performance at the NAHL Showcase Tournament earlier this month, the 16-year-old from Spokane, Wash., picked up two more assists against Kenai and now has eights points on the season.
Baxter is high on all of his newcomers and their potential.
“Many of them are showing signs that they’ll be key contributors this season,” said the coach. “We feel that, with their talent, collective size, hockey sense and competitive nature, they’ll improve quickly.”
The play of netminders Brandon Jaeger, last year’s NAHL Goaltender of the Year, along with newcomer Marcus Zelzer, are also an important part of the Wild’s equation. The tandem has split the season’s minutes in goal (180) right down the middle.
“Both have been solid for the most part, but we have high expectations that both Brandon and Marcus will get better,” said Baxter. “We need that to happen for us to reach our long-term goals.”
And the Wild will have its hands full this weekend, as the red-hot Fairbanks Ice Dogs, a West Division-leading 5-0-2, come to town for three games this weekend.
“We’ve developed a healthy rivalry over the last two seasons, and I suspect that’ll continue to grow,” said Baxter. “They’re off to a very good start and this will be a good early test and measuring stick for us.”
ALASKA AVALANCHE: The Avalanche picked up four of six points in Dawson Creek last weekend, and, along with strong performances from forwards Brandon Brossoit, Seth Johnson and Andy Pearson and goaltender Landon Peterson, head coach Brian Huebel was impressed with his defense. “They played stingy for most of the weekend,” he said.
DAWSON CREEK RAGE: In the Rage’s first-ever win at EnCana Events Centre on Friday - a 5-2 victory over the Alaska Avalanche - forward Carter Page connected for the game-winning goal and an assist. The 18-year-old from Calgary leads the team in scoring with four points through seven games.
FAIRBANKS ICE DOGS: Along with being tied for seventh in NAHL scoring with 10 points (two goals), 20-year-old forward Zach Vierling, from Coon Rapids, Minn., leads the league with a plus-10 rating.
FRESNO MONSTERS: Having not played a game since the NAHL Showcase Tournament earlier this month, the Monsters will begin an eight-game road trip beginning in Alaska this weekend for a two-game set against the Avalanche on Friday and Saturday.
KENAI RIVER BROWN BEARS: In addition to his veteran leadership, forward Doug Beck, a Plymouth, Mich., native in his final season of junior hockey, has three goals for seven points through eight games. “We’re very pleased and excited to see Doug’s stock rise, and for Kenai River to be his springboard into college hockey next season,” said head coach Oliver David.